High-output internal-combustion engines are still central to the performance of most sporty SUVs, such as the BMW X3 M and the Mercedes-AMG GLC63, to name but two. But things work differently over at Volvo. For the Swedish brand, the formula for speed plus efficiency in its bestselling XC60 compact SUV, as well as several other models, involves a plug-in-hybrid powertrain—one that’s received a considerable uptick in capability for the 2022 model year.
Despite a hybrid ethos and the ability to roleplay as an EV for short distances, the top XC60 Recharge model like our test car—known as the mouthful that is T8 Polestar Engineered Extended Range—is a serious piece of machinery with a combined output of 455 horsepower and 523 pound-feet of torque. That’s 40 horses and 29 pound-feet more than T8 Polestar models that lack the Extended Range label. For the unfamiliar, previous T8 plug-in models consist of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine augmented by a supercharger and a turbocharger, plus an 87-hp electric motor on the rear axle that provides all-wheel drive. The new Extended Range versions, which replace the non-Extended Range versions as of mid-2022, ditch the supercharger and upgrade to a 143-hp rear motor that makes up for the missing blower’s assistance at low rpm. An unobtrusive eight-speed automatic transmission fitted with a second, 46-hp motor is standard.
What’s more, the new model year sees an increase in the plug-in XC60’s battery capacity from 9.1 to 14.9 kWh. This helps boost its EPA combined rating from 25 to 28 mpg while also earning a 36-mile EV range estimate, up from the previous 19 miles. In federal tax credit terms, the enlarged battery makes the Extended Range powertrain eligible for the $7500 maximum, up from $5419 for the small-battery version. We saw a real-world driving improvement, too, as our test car went 31 miles on electrons and then achieved 30 mpg in our 75-mph highway test. In the same measures, a 2020 XC60 T8 Polestar model only traveled 13 miles on electricity and earned 23 mpg. Unfortunately, Volvo didn’t upgrade the plug-in’s unimpressive onboard charger. With a maximum charging rate of 3.7 kW, it can take between five and eight hours to refill the larger battery, depending on the amperage of the Level 2 charging station.
With more power reaching all four wheels, our test car was significantly quicker on paper than the 2020 model. Its 4.2-second run to 60 mph is 0.6 second fleeter than before, and its quarter-mile pass of 12.6 seconds at 111 mph amounts to improvements of 0.8 second and 6 mph. While that extra shove is harder to detect in everyday driving, despite the new car being nearly a second quicker in our 50-to-70-mph acceleration test, the updated powertrain does feel more cohesive overall. Apart from the uninspired sounds the gas engine makes—which peak at 74 decibels inside the cabin and register a quiet 67 decibels at 70 mph—the handoff to electric power is seamless, and responses to our right foot feel more immediate than we remember. Experiencing the XC60’s full sauce requires several annoying pokes at the new Android-based center touchscreen to activate the model-exclusive Polestar drive mode, but the setting does optimize all of the vehicle’s systems for maximum performance. The letdown comes from its engine being largely the same core unit found in every other Volvo model, which robs this top Polestar trim of some of the mechanical differentiation we want in a hot-rod SUV.
At least huge gold-painted brake calipers and gold valve-stem caps will alert valets that the Polestar Engineered is no ordinary XC60. Further proof is the model-specific hardware that makes it corner, ride, and stop differently than its siblings. A set of manually adjustable Öhlins dampers remain a Polestar calling card, though we struggle to imagine many owners will bother to pop the hood or reach inside the rear wheel well (with the rear end jacked up!) to fine-tune them. The DIY dampers help manage standard 21-inch forged-aluminum wheels, with 22-inchers an $800 option. Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer tires are standard with either setup. Our test car featured the 21s and posted 0.86 g of grip on the skidpad, compared to 0.91 g for the 2020 version that rolled on 22s. Likewise, its decent 165-foot stop from 70 mph was seven feet longer than its 37-pound-heavier predecessor needed.
Regardless of the rolling stock, both setups result in harsh impacts and a choppy ride over poorly maintained Midwestern roads, a situation that’s perhaps exacerbated by adjustable dampers that are not electronically adjustable. While the XC60 Polestar’s high-speed composure is good and its reflexes are sharp, its chassis feels more clinical than visceral, with precise yet lifeless steering being its greatest limitation to driver engagement. Likewise, the initial squishiness and erratic responses of this Volvo’s brake pedal can be unnerving in stop-and-go traffic, though a newly added one-pedal driving feature does mediate this by using a higher level of regenerative braking to bring the vehicle to a full stop.
As a performance machine that costs $71,095 to start (before its newly eligible $7500 federal tax credit), the 2022 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered Extended Range doesn’t pull at our heartstrings like racier and more expensive compact SUVs do, such as the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and the Porsche Macan GTS. But it does bring more electric range and straight-line speed than before, plus a full boat of active safety features and a luxurious interior that will survive scrutiny from any BMW or Mercedes owner. It’s just that you also can get its new 455-hp plug-in powertrain in lower-trim T8 Inscription Expression, R-Design, or Inscription Extended Range models for thousands less. How much you value the exclusivity of the XC60’s Polestar upgrades depends on how unorthodox your views are.
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